FOR the 26 months that US man Josh Fattal was held captive in Iran, his mother and brother were ever-present voices calling for his release. But his father, Jacob Fattal, never said a word.
It’s now clear why: The family feared that their Jewish faith – and Jacob Fattal’s ties to Israel – could make Josh’s unbearable situation worse because of Iran’s hard line against Israel.
Jacob Fattal is an Iraqi-born Jew who lived in Israel before moving to the United States and raising a family, according to reports in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the Philadelphia-based Jewish Exponent.
In 2009, his son Josh Fattal was hiking with friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd in Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdish region when they were detained by Iranian authorities.
TShourd was released about a year later. Fattal and Bauer, both 29, spent more than two years in Evin prison before being freed last week under a $US1 million ($1.01 million) bail deal.
“We’re very happy; it’s the greatest gift we could have dreamed of receiving for Rosh Hashanah,” Jacob Fattal told Haaretz on Monday, a few days ahead of the Jewish New Year.
“The problem was their being American, not Jewish. The Iranians used them as a political weapon for two years.”
Aviva Daniel and Yael Nis, Josh Fattal’s aunts in Israel, told Israel’s Channel 2 today that they only told a few people in Israel about Fattal’s Israeli connection – and swore them to secrecy.
“I believe the (Israeli) media knew, and co-operated, and kept it a secret,” said Nis. “We are really thankful for that.”
Ian Lustick, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in Middle East politics, said it’s likely that both the Fattal family and the Iranians downplayed Fattal’s faith throughout the detention in order to leave the door open for a possible resolution.
While the family clearly made attempts to keep his faith out of the public eye, Lustick said, the Iranians probably knew that at least one of the detained hikers was Jewish but kept it quiet.
If the family had trumpeted the fact that Fattal was Jewish, he said, it would been much more difficult to resolve the stand-off.
“There was a kind of objective alliance between people in this country who didn’t talk about it publicly … and the Iranians also downplayed it,” Lustick said. “Really what happened was there was a general desire to find a way out.”
“If you didn’t have officials in Iran who had always been keeping that information out of the news, then pretending to keep the secret in the United States wouldn’t have worked.”
Shourd has been living in Oakland, California, since her release. Bauer, who grew up in Onamia, Minnesota, proposed marriage to her while they were in prison.
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